Some women may think of pregnancy as their ticket to eat anything they want, indulging any and all cravings and leaving portion control by the wayside. Put aside the thought you are eating for 2. It may sound ideal, but that kind of thinking is not an ideal way to approach nutrition when making food choices during pregnancy.
Both inadequate weight gain and excess weight gain during pregnancy pose risks to both mother and child. A balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight and provide the best nutrition for you and your unborn baby. The following guidelines can help you find a nutrition balance for your pregnancy.
Exactly how much weight gain to aim for will vary among women and depends on several factors, including the mother’s pre-pregnancy weight, height, age, and health status, as well as whether or not the pregnancy will involve twins, triplets, or more. See your doctor to determine the best weight gain goal for you.
In general, the following Institute of Medicine and National Research Council guidelines are used for women with a single-baby pregnancy:
Of course, everyone is different. Here are some common problems if you stray too far off the recommended weight range.
The correct weight gain is one of many factors that may help ensure a healthy pregnancy. Keep in mind this is not the time to try a new, fad, or extreme diet to control weight gain. It can be harmful to you and your child.
Gaining too little weight can increase the risk for:
Gaining too much weight can increase the mother’s risk for conditions, such as:
Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can also make it harder to lose the weight afterward. Women who gain the suggested weight during pregnancy tend to lose most of it once the baby is born and the rest in the months following the birth.
Low birthweight or preterm birth is associated with:
Gaining too much weight can increases the risk of having a larger than average baby at birth. Risks for your baby (which may continue into adulthood) include:
Small changes in your diet will benefit both you and your baby through pregnancy and even after birth.
The approach to healthful eating during pregnancy is two-fold: You want to eat for an appropriate weight gain, but you also want to make sure you and your unborn baby get all the nutrients needed. Tips to help you do this include:
It is not always easy to stay away from foods you are used to eating. Start slowly. Gradually substitue healthier options in place of less healthy foods. Talk to your doctor about ideal nutrition goals. Certain foods like low-fat dairy may be ideal additions to your diet. You can monitor your menu with an individualized food plan at the US Department of Agriculture Supertracker website. If you are having a hard time planning meals, talk to a registered dietitian for suggestions.
In addition to proper nutrition, you may need to increase or change certain vitamins and minerals during your pregnancy. Ask your doctor about prenatal vitamins.
Keep in mind that physical activity also plays a role in pregnancy weight gain. Getting regular exercise during pregnancy may help you achieve your recommended weight gain goal and relieve some discomforts of pregnancy. Be sure to check with your doctor before embarking on any exercise program during pregnancy.
A discussion of healthful eating during pregnancy would be incomplete without a mention of food safety. While it is important to eat a variety of foods and get adequate nutrients, it is also important to avoid certain foods that could pose a risk to you or to your unborn baby.
Here are some recommendations to avoid potential food-borne illness:
Be aware of E. Coli 0157:H7. This bacterium may be found in raw and undercooked meat and unpasteurized milk. Be sure to cook all meats to appropriate temperatures and avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards for raw and cooked foods.
If you start early, it will be easier to make the switch to a more healthful diet. Make the most of what is available to you so you can enjoy a healthy pregnancy and faster recovery.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
ChooseMyPlate—US Department of Agriculture
Women's Health Matters—Women's College Hospital
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Last reviewed November 2014 by Michael Woods MDLast Updated: 11/10/2014